One of the earliest and most vivid memories I have from childhood is sitting on a plaid couch (maybe two years old?), staring into a television, screaming in full toddler freakout because a robot on Sesame Street was scaring me.
What's funny about this memory is that even though the robot terrified me, I could not look away from the screen.
I was trying to retell this tale to someone over IM today, then googled and found one clip in which the robot appears — the very first time, in 1972. Turns out S.A.M. ("Super Automated Machine") also made a cameo appearance in a Spider Man comic book.
Funny how memory imprints work — the Sesame Street Robot still kind of scares me when I watch the clip, all these years later. I can't quite bring myself to watch the clip all the way through.
Reader comment: David Z. says,
I had the same experience with this clip from Sesame Street of a stop-motion orange singing "Carmen." As a child, it would send me running from the room when it came on. I finally found it on YouTube and felt the same rush of fear as I did thirty-odd years ago. When the orange hits that high note and her face flies off, I almost had to close the browser.
Wow. Perhaps what David and I both experienced here was an early voyage into the Uncanny Valley.
Greg Baker says:
It was the yip-yip martians that did it for me.
Like david z, I found a clip on YouTube and freaked myself out a little. When the phone rang and their lips flew up above their head, I thought about cowering behind my desk chair for a second.
Thanks for the memory. There's nothing I don't like about Boing Boing. Keep up the good work.
Jon Adams says,
I was terrified by those same freaking aliens, which actually sort of look
like the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Peter Pentz says,
My mom says I used to shout from the living room, "It's Coming!" Video Link to "Ernie and Bert Explore a Pyramid."
James Alberts says,
I vividly remember both Burt and Ernie exploring a pyramid and the singing orange, but the Mummenschanz mime troupe on the Muppet Show scarred me forever. Years later, I still can't make it all the way through their act. Thanks for rattling such a bizarre television-memory from my subconscious! Video Link.
Pteryxx Hyperion says,
Mine was the rubber bands that counted to ten. The 'eyes' zigzagging back and forth still weird me out… but now I've learned to enjoy it. Video Link.
Ari B. says,
An earlier commenter mentioned the "Ernie and Bert explore a pyramid" bit freaking him out.
In college, I worked in a residential program for young adolescents, and one kid confessed to me that the sketch was responsible for his first psychotic episode.
Xeni, it's no wonder S.A.M. scared you as a kid.
SAM is obviously a Dalek disguised by brain washed hippies to infiltrate our
culture, and to gain access to our children. If that voice had started
saying "Exterminate! Exterminate!" in an English accent I wouldn't have
been surprised, especially after all of that "Machines are perfect," stuff.
Is it just me, or does that robot have the EXACT same voice as a Dr. Who Dalek?
There is something definitely unsettling about the sounds it's making as it moves around, as i was watching that clip my pet rabbits perked up like there was predator in the room. I'm also starting to think that the tail on it is a trophy from a kill it made.
lets not forget the head-hunter (or whatever theyre called) scene in labyrinth. even though the song is about chilling out it still gives me the heebeejeebees. Video Link.
Lindsey B says,
Your Sesame Street post brought back the terrifying memory of watching a skit where a puppet could get nectarines from a tree but couldn't eat them. A quick google search pulled up the clip for "Geefle and Gonk". I am having post traumatic flashbacks just watching it. Video Link.
Here is another Sesame Street clip I remember was Ernie getting propositioned by a shady "O" dealer pushing his wares.
On the topic of disturbing muppets this sketch involves a guy pulling a girl's head apart because he loves her.
Once her facial features are removed they spontaneously reanimate creating a creepy flesh colored "sheet ghost" like creature.
I tried to explain the nightmares this gave me (mostly about the sheet ghost creature coming out of the walls and pulling me in) for years but nobody believed me.
They said nothing so disturbing would ever get on Sesame Street and that I must have made it up. Link.
The sights and sounds of mr-nobody. Yes, sesame street clips scared kids. This was one of them. I challenge you to watch it until the end. :) Video Link.
I used to have a deep fear of the Snuggle brand fabric softener spokes bear when I was a kid. I had a nightmare (that is still vivid to this day) that I was out on the fire escape behind my Chicago highrise, and a snuggle bear popped out of nowhere and chased me for ever.
Years later the MTV sketch comedy show The State did a sketch where the Snuggle bear pops up to help a woman with her ironing, causing her to screech and pummel the bear with the iron. I'm SO with that lady.
I read your bit about the characters that were a bit on the scary side, and couldn't help but post the one that scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. I found a clip on youtube, and found that it still bugs me out a bit.
I'm not sure which frightened me worse, The music or Duneden. Video Link.
Mark Hurst says,
for me it was the Death Probe on the Six Million Dollar Man. Video Link.
Jenny Norton says,
I'm too young to have recalled SAM the Robot, but I was also terrified by the orange singing "Carmen" and Bert and Ernie in Egypt. I liked the Yip-Yips, though. The Terrifying Trifecta of "Sesame Street" clips for me was completed by this, which, to my horror, I found on a tape I had from 1988. I posted in on YouTube and found out I wasn't the only one scared by the creepy toys, robots, and satellites: Video Link.
Keith Houston says,
Through the magic of the internet, I am one step closer to facing my
ultimate nightmare. Not from a kids show, but just a good ole'
fashioned childhood destroying 80's sitcom.
There was a strange TV show in the early 80's called "No Soap, Radio",
starring Steve Guttenburg. I vaguely remembered the opening sequence
involving footage of a roller coaster. I was very young when it aired.
I have done some research, and discovered the show was a series of
non-sequitors and weird throw away gags centered loosely around the
goings on of some dingy hotel. All done in the name of comedy for
sure, but one of their little "gags" has terrified me to this very
day, some 20-odd years later. There was a green chair that ate people,
Just swallowed them up. They would sit in this chair, try to get
comfortable and VOOP, they would disappear into the chair, maybe being
sucked into some nightmarish non-space, or possibly Hell. Once, my
mother dropped me off at a baby-sitters house, and the sitter had
THREE green chairs of the same type as the show, and I cowered in the
corner until my mom picked me up later in the day, visibly shaken. I
can't find any of the clips on-line, and I actually tremble at the
thought of seeing it again. I've been afraid of that damn green chair
Chris Layne says,
I remember S.A.M. and the two Martian creatures from Sesame Street, but because I was the technician sitting in master control of the PBS affiliate in Richmond, Virginia. I was surprised to hear that these puppets were scary to so many people. It has given me food for thought to replay the clips and try to imagine them through children's eyes.
Here's the Sesame Street clip that gave *me* nightmares: Video Link.
Unanswerable question: Was I already scared of clowns when I saw that, or was it that clip that made me scared of clowns?
Drew Amato says,
I just wanted to say that, like, presumably, thousands of other BB
readers, the comments about scary Sesame Street clips really touched a
nerve for me. I remember being scared of the "Carmen" orange, and the
'Bert and Ernie in the pyramid' clip, but the one clip which made me
run out of the room until it was over was this one of Bob and Luis
creating a picture of a tunnel, which a train eventually comes
charging out of: Video Link.
BB really amazes me; I never thought I'd ever (a) have reason to find
the clip on YouTube, (b) find out other people felt the same about it
as I do, and (c) realise that these kind of lightning-rod posts are
what make the internet awesome.
Keep up the good work!
I understand if you're sick of this meme by now, but I had to point out another terrifying Sesame Street clip. This is a lesser-known animated clip about a little boy who gets lost in a VERY strange and extremely surreal neighborhood. As a child, I found it horrifying, but had to watch it every time it aired. Video Link.